Judge: Cambridge Bay murder case represents “spectrum” of Nunavut social issues
“There is no sentence that this court can impose that will bring Desery back”
A Cambridge Bay man is now serving a life sentence for killing his common-law spouse and the mother of his two-year-old son, a tragic incident that Justice Sue Cooper said “represents the spectrum of the various social issues that plague Nunavut.”
Allistair Nakashook, then 22, strangled and stabbed Deseray Panaktak, 19, on Feb. 6, 2011, following a prolonged bout of partying and drinking. (See transcript embedded at bottom of page.)
Following the start of a trial this past July in Cambridge Bay, Nakashook pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Defence lawyer Laura Stevens and Crown prosecutor Leo Lane agreed Nakashook should serve at least 13 years in prison before he’s eligible for parole — a recommendation that Cooper accepted.
In a transcript of her judgment obtained by Nunatsiaq News, Cooper said the killing’s level of violence was “indicative of a person acting in extreme rage.”
At the same time, she acknowledged that the trauma and cultural loss suffered by Nakashook had affected his actions.
Nakashook suffered from an unstable home life in childhood, she said.
“His mother struggled with addiction, depression and suicide, and his father clearly had his struggles,” she said.
His mother was born near the DEW line site near today’s community of Gjoa Haven and sent off to residential school at age six.
Nakashook’s father was from Scotland. His parents’ relationship was turbulent, and as a child, Nakashook was shuttled about from place to place.
“This inevitably impacted on Mr. Nakashook, most notably through his parents’ inability to provide a stable and secure home. He does not speak Inuinnaqtun, nor have I heard that he has any significant connection to the land or a traditional lifestyle.”
In Cambridge Bay, like so many in Nunavut, members of Nakashook’s extended family were living in overcrowded housing, Cooper said.
“As well-intended and caring as they might have been, under such circumstances, it is difficult to provide an appropriate environment for a struggling teen,” she said.
Nakashook fell into binge drinking, with the Crown saying that alcohol was provided to him by older relatives.
Nakashook, who dropped out of school in Grade 9, had a history of intermittent employment, and a pattern of relocating between Cambridge Bay and Yellowknife, Cooper said.
Nakashook had self-harmed many times and attempted suicide on more than one occasion.
“These are precisely the systemic factors that the Supreme Court of Canada speaks of in the cases of Gladue and Ipeelee,” Cooper said, referring to previous Supreme Court decisions that determined the justice system should take into account trauma and the background of aboriginal offenders in sentencing.
But the Criminal Code provides a mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder with no parole eligibility for a minimum of 10 years, so Nakashook must be sentenced to life imprisonment, Cooper said.
“The court has no discretion in this regard,” Cooper said.
Nakashook will be eligible to apply for after 13 years, she ruled, agreeing with a joint submission from Crown and defence lawyers.
At the trial, which took place July 19 and 20 in Cambridge Bay, Nakashook said he wanted to send his “deepest apologies” to Panaktak’s family.
“I never wanted this, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make amends for it,” he said.
According to the sentencing submission presented by the Crown, the killing was “of an exceptionally brutal nature.”
On the morning of Feb. 6, 2011, following a night of heavy drinking at a string of house parties, Nakashook killed Panaktak by beating, strangling and stabbing her in their bedroom.
Nakashook strangled her then stabbed her with a steak knife six times in the neck and punctured her superficially twice on the shoulder at two different locations in the bedroom over a period of 20 to 25 minutes.
One of the neck wounds severed her carotid artery, “an injury that was inevitably fatal,” Lane told the court.
Nakashook killed Panaktak in a rage, he said.
“It can certainly be inferred that it was due to his jealous nature or jealousy on that night,” Lane said.
Both were heavily intoxicated.
Afterwards Nakashook made videos and tried to cast suspicion on another young man in town. He also visited neighbours, continuing to drink vodka while Panaktak, dead, lay under a blanket in their bedroom.
Lane told how, in the first two videos, Nakashook filmed himself walking and talking in his kitchen.
“He appears dishevelled, and the bridge of his nose is cut. In the first video, he says, ‘I did something bad, and now I gotta fucking die for it.’”
Around 6:15 p.m., one of Nakashook’s relatives called the RCMP.
Police arrived at his house shortly after 7 p.m.
Nakashook was inside holding a knife and threatened to kill himself if they entered. Members of the RCMP spent two hours talking him down before disarming him.
“It was so hard on our family. Still is unbelievable. I just wish this was all a bad dream and someone can wake me up from it,” Panaktak’s adopted sister told the court in a victim’s impact statement.
“There is no sentence that this court can impose that will bring Desery back,” Cooper said in her judgment.
Cooper said she hoped that with time, the family will put the interests of the young child of Nakashook and Panaktak “before their own feelings of loss and anger.”
“If there is a desire to honour the memory of Desery Panaktak, this can be best achieved by caring for her son. Let V. be the child and adult that breaks the cycle of dysfunction, substance abuse and violence that so affected the lives of his parents and his paternal grandparents,” Cooper said.